Gustavo Poyet has told his Sunderland players to enjoy the “nicest” games of their season.
The Black Cats know the pressure will be heaped on their opponents when they host Manchester United in tonight’s League Cup semi-final first leg. The Red Devils’ FA Cup exit at home to Swansea City on Sunday leaves them in real need of this trophy – which would be his first – to ease the pressure on manager David Moyes.
Poyet believes he has the same problems as the Scot, just that his are not “global”. But they all come in the Premier League, making tonight’s game a bit of a release for his players.
“This is the nicest part of the season because the rest has been a nightmare, so let’s try and enjoy it and achieve something,” he said. “The players are relaxed. It’s a cup game against a top team and it looks like – although not for me – if you lose, nothing happens. But it could be that it brings something different to the players, not as individuals, but as a group.
“If you are playing Chelsea in the league and it is 1-1, how many of the players would take a draw? But in the cup, you must win. I keep saying this, but more and more in football it’s the mental side of things that’s most important. Fitness, the difference is not a lot. Technically, they’re very similar.”
Which begs the question how Sunderland have been one of the four best teams in this season’s League Cup without lifting themselves off the bottom of the Premier League table.
“Ask me tomorrow,” Poyet responded. “We will have a better idea after that.
“I played for a Chelsea team that won cups, but we never won the league. That doesn’t mean we weren’t playing the same way or trying the same. It is very difficult to win the league, but something was missing. Consistency. And that is definitely one of the things that’s missing here.
“It’s important players embrace the occasion, but I think it’s going to be easy because of the opposition. For some reason, there will not be the same tension and that will be the same with the fans.”
Poyet has sympathy for opposite number Moyes, who is under worldwide scrutiny as he tries to follow Sir Alex Ferguson.
“I understand the mentality, how difficult it is, the expectations of the club and the people,” he said.
“You are expected to win every game and win the league, as if it’s that simple.
“Mine are not the worldwide problems Manchester United have.
“Theirs are a little bigger and a little bit posher, but I can tell you that the problems are the same. It’s about winning football games, trying to find the solutions when you don’t like what you see, trying to sort it out, looking for a few players that can help you.”
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